By Ben Wilson
There’s something really rotten about the way the water buyback deal is being run through the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
The Department has been operating in alliance with a private company called Eastern Australia Agriculture (EAA), on the board of which, the energy minister Angus Taylor once sat.
Taylor is also a close associate of the former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who signed off on the deal. He was the minister responsible in 2017, the time when this deal with AEE took place.
EAA received $80 million worth of water buybacks in relation to two properties it owns. Taylor may insist that when he was director, he never had a financial interest in the company. He was not there as a piece of furniture, and must have taken part in discussions, and one would suspect, that he would at least have been paid a director’s fee.
Angus Taylor was founder of EAA, the company secretary and his name appears on documents.
The whole ting looks corrupt. There is enough smoke here to warrant a thorough investigation.
At the very least, Angus Taylor should have declared his interest, and Barnaby Joyce should have been aware of this interest and acted appropriately. He is reported to have asked to be kept fully informed.
Both acted unethically. To make matters worse, two previous applications had been rejected. So why did Barnaby Joyce turn this around?
EAA’s gift is part of the government’s controversial $200 million water buyback scheme associated with the Murray Darling Basin Plan. This river system has been seriously compromised by the excessive extraction of water, which in recent times has been a major contribution to the spreads of toxic algae and masses of dead fish.
The government has claimed that paying major landowners is the best way to restore adequate flow into the river system. It works this way. Landowners are sold a licence to use the water, and then they can apply to sell back this right, or a portion of it, to the government. Critics have pointed out that water usage is not properly policed and it is open to abuse.
The cotton growers are the major water users and EAA is one of the biggest.
It would be much better to just impose controls over usage through an annual allowance, based on constant careful monitoring of what is required to maintain the health of the environment of the area in question.
To make matters worse, evidence from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) shows that the money handed over to EAA is likely to have been part of the company profit going to the Cayman Island tax free haven. The parent company is registered there.
Not only is this company able to milk taxpayer money. It is also active in avoiding payment of its own share of tax. Labor leader Bill Shorten has a point when he calls this a “scandal.” It is also criminal behaviour, worthy of a police investigation. Why isn’t there one?
It happens that EAA has been a donator to the Liberal Party.
Failure to act makes the whole government complicit in wrongdoing.